Monday, July 13, 2015

My hypothesis on helping the bees - natural antibiotics

A bee enjoying the flower of the ribbon bush - Hypoestes aristata
I was watching the clip about AFB disease in the Western Cape on the TV program Carte Blanche, when I had a thought that is probably not original, but may well be an idea that farmers and beekeepers could bear in mind. Many beekeepers in the world believe the answer to diseases in the hive is to strengthen the bees naturally. They have a "survival of the fittest" approach. It is quite widely believed that there are many factors that have weakened bees, for example, the use of antibiotics, insecticides, feeding bees sugar, the use of chemicals in hives, monocultures, stress etc. When the one beekeeper who was interviewed  said that the only way to get rid of American foulbrood disease is to use antibiotics, I realised that in natural, wild areas the bees get all the antibiotics they need from plants and these plants are missing in the urban and agricultural environment.
Because I am a phytotherapist (medical herbalist) I have a garden full of medicinal plants. Many of these plants have excellent antibacterial properties as well as antifungal and antiviral properties. I use these all the time for my patients instead of life destroying antibiotics. (Antibiotics are rarely used to save a life these days, they are more commonly used as routine panaceas to a gullible and ignorant public. If people understood the effects of antibiotics on their microflora, they wouldn't be so quick to demand them. Doctors in South Africa shouldn't be dishing them out like sweeties either.)Antibiotics, whether used on man or insects, cause genetic changes which result in resistance. In humans this resistance can last for two years or longer from one course of antibiotics. It stands to reason that people who are continually taking antibiotics will have stronger resistance genes and weakened immune systems than those who rarely take them. The same applies to insects.
So my theory is that by improving  biodiversity for bees on farms and at apiaries, using medicinal herbs with antibiotic properties, bees would be getting a dose of medicine quite regularly throughout the seasons. Even those that are used to pollinate orchards, when removed from the orchard they could have a spell in a medicinal herb garden area, designed to keep them healthy.
I am sure that some beekeepers will have already made the connection between bee health and the bees' environment. For instance are bees that feed on Eucalyptus healthier than those that feed on apple blossom? Are bees that feed on fynbos generally healthier? I can't answer these questions but I think beekeepers should be enquiring as to whether all bees irrespective of where they are, are prone to American foulbrood, or are some less affected?
Here in SA we have stripped the countryside of it's natural biodiversity by removing nearly all the natural flora and replacing it with monoculture crops( like canola). We don't have fields full of yarrow as one sees in Europe, or thyme in the grass and Echinacea in the parks. In fact most of our suburban parks and gardens have only shrubs, grass and trees. There are very few wild areas left so the aromatic fynbos herbs are limited, compared to how it was before agriculture ruined the land. We also don't have the same flora as in Europe, which has survived because it is native or naturalised to the region and grown everywhere, on sidewalks and fields and gardens. Imagine my surprise to see Echinacea growing in a dry looking flowerbed at a petrol station in the Czech republic! (Echinacea by the way is native to North America).
It is no coincidence that aromatic herbs have antimicrobial properties, due to the essential oils in the leaves and flowers. Bees also love these plants eg rosemary, sage, thyme and lavender. These plants are not native to South Africa, but should be grown a lot more to supplement medicinal benefits for the bees. In the case of rosemary and lavender, they are hardy and drought tolerant. In European botanical gardens one often sees the most stunning thyme beds literally swarming with bees. Thyme has antifungal and antimicrobial properties. Echinacea, once established is very hardy and reasonably drought tolerant. It is the mainstay of any antibiotic treatment in herbal medicine and bees love it. They wriggle their way between the spiky flower heads, (which seems to be quite a struggle), in order to get the pollen they want.

My opinion is, that we need to enhance the bees' immunity by planting flowers with antibiotic, antifungal and immune enhancing properties. Some indigenous plants might well do this, but in urban and agricultural areas there is not enough fynbos to do this. So we must embrace the herbs that we know have the phytochemicals they need for enhanced immunity. Some of these are:

Sage; Rosemary; Thyme; Echinacea; Tulbachia (wild garlic); Garlic; Lavender; Buchu; Marjoram; Thuja; Myrtle; Olive; Eucalyptus, Garlic chives, Coriander; Aniseed; Fennel; Caraway; Rue; Yarrow; Artemisia spp; Juniper; Plectranthus neochilus; Hyssop. Strongly aromatic plants and plants with resin are the types of plants to look out for. Some aloes might have antimicrobial properties, but I don't know which ones, apart from Aloe vera. Aloes are important winter flowers for bees, as well as Cotyledon orbiculata (plakkie) flowers

Plant in big clumps, not dotted all over the place. Bees prefer to forage in an area where plants are in masses. Spread the word among your friends and neighbours. It's not enough to be bee-friendly, we need to get the right plants in place for their medicinal requirements.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Bee Killer or Killer Bee?

Mention the word bee to most people and they shudder.  Not in the same way that people shudder over a spider or snake, but in a way that indicates a certain painful sting if one should be in their vicinity.  A common statement made is that they are allergic to bee stings. Funnily enough many people who say that they are allergic to bee stings don’t carry a bee sting kit or wear a Medic Alert bracelet! If you are truly allergic to bee stings, you could die without immediate treatment.

Most people who have been stung by a bee will experience pain and swelling in the area. This may last an hour or two or a few days. This is not an allergy, but merely a reaction. This can be treated with  Echinacea applied to the area that was stung, and taken internally. Vinegar is also useful to apply to the stung area. I once received 30 or more stings to my face and head and was fully recovered after two days. I have developed a sting gel which works very well indeed. I was the guinea pig, and the stung area was better in two hours (better = hardly noticeable).

It is an extremely rare event for a swarm of bees to attack an animal or human. It does happen, but usually because the swarm in its home was disturbed in some way. Sometimes they make a home in a compost heap or an old box or tree trunk, and they are stumbled upon by accident by a dog or human on a walk. They still won't attack unless seriously disturbed. If they do it is a very serious situation and apparently jumping into water doesn’t really help because the bees wait for you to come up for air. Bees might also attack someone who has strong perfume on or who smells bad to them – but this would be a few bees, generally not a whole swarm. Bees are very sensitive to smells and noises.

Making propolis
Bees who are happily gathering pollen on a shrub on a warm and sunny day, are not going to stop what they are doing to give you a sting! They are too busy to be bothered. Likewise bees that are swarming won’t sting you as they have their minds on finding a new home and protecting their queen. You can handle a swarm of bees which has clustered on a branch, with your bare hands. Do not be afraid of a swarm which flies over your garden or even lands in your garden. Just leave them alone and they will move away in a day or so.

And this brings me to the bee killers….. People who grab a can of insecticide the minute they see a bee. And even worse, people who kill an entire swarm that has landed in their garden or moved into a corner of their shed or into a cavity wall.

By now everyone knows that bees are endangered and that without bees 75% of the fruit, nuts and vegetables we eat will not get pollinated, so we won’t have enough food anymore. This is a world-wide problem. In some parts of China where there has been an appalling over use of agricultural chemicals, all the fruit trees have to be hand pollinated.

Bees are endangered for a combination of reasons: They have become weakened by Commercial Bee keeping practices such as repeatedly moving hundreds of hives great distances – this stresses them; feeding them sugar; using chemical agents in the hives; Agricultural practices such as monocropping, aerial spraying of poisons onto the crops; loss of habitat; Gardeners using insecticides, fungicides and other poisons (even organic poisons)in their gardens; spraying fruit trees when they are in flower; spraying flowers; Diseases spreading throughout the world – various bacterial, viral and parasitical diseases have spread across continents severely affecting bee numbers. And then there’s you – the bee killer who sprays or burns a whole innocent swarm, just looking for a home.

Create a bee garden
Bee killers far outnumber killer bees. Bees are peace-loving hard working insects who like to be left alone to do their thing. Love them and leave them and they’ll make you honey. Plant them a nice wild flower garden, or leave part of your garden to go “wild”. Place a shallow dish of water up high somewhere for them. They are very thirsty in the dry hot summer months. And stop buying insecticides. Leave the poisons on the shelf in the garden centre and supermarket – you’ll be sending the big companies like Bayer a strong message.
Bees deserve our respect. They do an enormous job for us, apart from making honey. Let's all help save the bees. Every little helps

Monday, January 19, 2015

Planning and harvesting.

It's that time of year when there's quite a lot of harvesting to be done. It's very frustrating when the fruit is ripening, or there's a glut of spinach waiting to be picked, but you are just too busy to get there!! I had quite a few plums on my tree, but they were eaten by birds and, believe it or not my dogs, because I was unable to harvest them. I caught Rocco on his back legs trying to reach higher into the plum tree, and realised where all the low down plums had gone to!

I have lemons ripening all the time and there's nothing more frustrating than picking them, and they get mouldy in a bowl. So now my method is to pick them, peel them and squeeze them. The peels go into alcohol for maceration for a constant supply of limoncello. The juice gets frozen in ice cube trays for drinks or other use. However if  I plan properly, I'll make hummus on the day that I've picked a couple of lemons, and use some of the juice straight away for this delectable food.

Spinach can be overwhelming in its abundance. What to do with it all? My solution is to check the leaves for dirt and insects, bung them whole into a plastic bag, and freeze them. Once they are frozen, they can be bashed into spinach crumbs, the stalks are easily removed now, they take up very little space and can be used in soups, stews and egg dishes as one needs it. I do the same with other greens like Chenopodium (goosefoot), Amaranthus (pigweed), Urtica (stinging nettle) and Portulaca (purslane).
Another good way to use greens is by drying them. A dehydrator is nice to have, but greens dry quickly in the shade on a hot sunny day. Once dried they can be crumbled up and a whole mountain of greens will fit in a large jar. In this way you can skip the vitamin pills or those supplements with phytonutrients that cost the earth, because you have your very own concentrated chlorophyll and minerals.
Dried spinach

I have an apple tree that I love for it's foliage, but a harvest from it is not guaranteed. Mostly the fruit has codling moth or some other scabby problem, so it's not really edible. But the fruit is organically grown, and quite a bit of each apple is unblemished and perfect for juice. If I had enough I'd like to try cider making or even cider vinegar, but the number of apples hasn't got big enough yet.

I have never tried salting green beans, but many years ago an aunt and uncle of mine used to do this with their green bean harvests. They would wash the beans and dry them and cut them up as if ready to cook them. Then they would put a layer of salt (non-iodised, sea salt) into a jar, a layer of beans, a layer of salt etc until all the beans were packed into jars. They said that when it came to cooking the beans, they tasted like they had just been picked. To me this sounds better than frozen beans.

These are just a few ideas for dealing with harvests. I have more for another day. Enjoy.